Dusty Baker, pitch counts and pitcher injuries

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Jeff Fletcher at AOL takes a closer look at the conventional wisdom that Dusty Baker is the angel of death when it comes to young starting pitchers:

There is no way to prove conclusively why any pitcher gets injured, so
the claims of pitcher abuse by Baker will forever be just theories. It
is indisputable, though, that Baker has had his starting pitchers
consistently throw more pitches than the norm.

Pitchers on Baker’s teams have thrown more pitches per start than the
National League average for pitchers on other teams in 14 of his 16
seasons. The difference is just about five pitches per game over his
career, but he has had two years in which his pitchers threw at least
10 more pitches, on average, than the rest of the league. One of those
was 2003.

Fletcher is pretty thorough in his reporting here, providing all of the pro-Dusty and con-Dusty I can recall hearing over the past decade or so.  It’s definitely worth a click-though and a full read.

My view: Dusty catches a more flak than he probably deserves for the specific injuries that have occurred on his watch. Some have suggested that Mark Prior’s allegedly perfect mechanics were actually far from it and inevitably led to his injuries. As Fletcher notes, Kerry Wood had an injury history before Baker drove him hard, and simply watching the torque he put on the ball back in the day was enough to make your arm hurt.  Fletcher notes other examples of pitchers who suffered injures under Baker that likely had little to do with their pitch counts.

That said, the fact is that we simply don’t know enough about the link between pitch counts and injuries to where Dusty can be excused for the consistently and significantly higher pitch counts his pitchers are forced to endure. I can’t say that Dusty Baker killed Mark Prior’s career, but I can’t say he didn’t either, and there’s no evidence that Baker every gave much thought to the matter at the time.

If I’m running a team and I’m investing tens of millions of dollars in precious pitchers, that’s simply unacceptable to me.